Well, this is certainly an interesting development. In a recent patch for naked troglodyte simulator Rust, players are now assigned a random race and head mesh which is permanently associated with their SteamID. According to Garry Newman, lead developer on Rust, “There’s a lot of skin colours in the world, and it’s really easy to appear racially insensitive when doing this. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is really used to seeing this guy as a white guy, so when you see him as a black guy it feels like he’s just ‘blacked up’. So we’re spending a lot of time trying to lessen that effect.”
How have players responded? It’s… complicated.
One reason for the change was partly one of persistence from a large pool of skin-tones and facial features to generate from. “Our ideal scenario is one in which no two players look the same, so you’ll recognize someone in game by their face to the extent that nametags will be redundant,” explains Newman.
Rust has traditionally had a single Caucasian model to choose from, so introducing enforced variability has had some consequences. Some players, both black and white, have protested the fact that they’re forced to play a skin colour not reflective of their own in real life. In an interview with Kotaku, Newman says there’s definitely seems to have been an increase in racial slurs being used, although it’s more an impression than hard data at this point. “It makes me wish I’d set up some analytics to record how many times the N-word was used before and after the update,” he says.
“Seeing this kind of thing play out made us realize that these aren’t just ‘real life’ issues that we need to block. They’re issues that we need to invite into the game to let people explore.”
While there’s an intention to avoid the unwanted scenario of minorities in the game by ensuring there’s an equal number of players across races, players have a way of bending systems to their own ends: take, for instance, the furor when players were using the profiling tool in Watch Dogs to specifically target people with different sexualities, races and ideological views. Newman initially stated that the team was wrestling with the need to intervene in certain racist incidents, but eventually decided against it, explaining that often players would take it upon themselves to “deal” with the racist. That’s… well, in one way heartening, but also a bit chilling given Rust‘s violent and often ruthless frontier gameplay.
The incidents, however, seem to be in the minority and I’m glad to see that many players have welcomed the change. It’s a really interesting concept, the idea of purchasing a game not knowing what you’re going to get and the potential in-game ramifications. It does raise the issue of Early Access and how a product which you may have felt comfortable purchasing from the outset (To be clear, I don’t believe Rust has ever promised character customisation but I might be mistaken) changes into something you don’t necessarily want.
Rust could quite possibly, with the addition of more variations and the option to play as a woman, become a highly representative game that still manages to annoy a large number of its players who don’t like their roll.
What are your thoughts? Cool idea? Bad form? Let us know in the comments.